David Gregory Faces Tough Questions as 'Meet the Press' Struggles

Image: David Gregory Faces Tough Questions as 'Meet the Press' Struggles

Monday, 21 Apr 2014 12:59 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Embattled "Meet the Press" host David Gregory has vowed to fix the "problems" that have resulted in the troubled program slipping to third place among Sunday morning political news shows, according to The Washington Post.

Worried NBC executives have even commissioned a psychologist to interview Gregory’s friends and family in an effort to find a solution to the ratings crisis, the Post reported.

In the first quarter of the year, "Meet the Press" trailed "Face the Nation" on CBS, hosted by veteran 77-year-old Bob Schieffer, and "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on ABC.

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Ratings for the final three months of last year in the 25-54 age demographic, the most coveted by advertisers, plunged to its lowest level since TV’s longest-running program was launched in 1947.

Schieffer’s show attracts an average weekly audience of 3.35 million viewers, leading Stephanopoulos by 5 percent and Gregory by 8 percent, with "Fox News Sunday" a distant fourth.

Gregory’s three-year plunge in the ratings is a far cry from the heady days of his predecessor Tim Russert, who ruled the time slot for a decade until his death in 2008, often trouncing his rivals by a 40 percent margin.

"Do I want to be No. 1 in the ratings?" Gregory said in an interview with the Post. "Every week I want to be No. 1, and we fight like hell to get there. And it’s tough right now. It’s a fight.

"I’m not just trying to sell you — well, I am trying to sell you — but I’m not going to B.S. you, either. Yeah, it’s hard. I see what our challenges are. But we’re going to fix our problems."

With the arrival of a new NBC News president, Deborah Turness from Britain’s ITV News, the "Meet the Press" numbers have come under close scrutiny, along with the 43-year-old Gregory.

The Post said that the network has taken a series of "unusual" steps at damage control.

The newspaper reported that NBC arranged for a psychologist to interview his friend and even his wife "to get perspective and insight from people who know him best," according to network spokeswoman Meghan Pianta.

The network pushed back against the Post report in a statement to The Huffington Post Monday. "Last year Meet the Press brought in a brand consultant—not, as reported, a psychological one—to better understand how its anchor connects," Pianta said. "This is certainly not unusual for any television program, especially one that’s driven so heavily by one person."

An NBC News spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost's Michael Calderone that the network commissioned the firm Elastic Strategy for the project. Meanwhile, Paul Farhi, the Post reporter for its "Meet the Press" story, told Poynter that he checked the characterization with the network over telephone before publishing.

NBC also named a new executive producer for the program, Robin Yarin, replacing longtime boss Betsy Fischer Martin, who had been at odds with Gregory over the show’s style and substance. Gregory and Yarin have since sped up the pacing by conducting shorter interviews and by broadening the range of topics and guests.

While insisting that the new style still "delivers on the core" of the show, Gregory added, "I’m dedicated to building something that says we’re not just thinking about politics. We’re thinking about who the real influencers are in this country."

But the moderator, who has been with NBC for two decades, admits that he’s still haunted by the ghost of the past of "Meet the Press."

"I am fully aware that there are a lot of people who believe Tim Russert will never be replaced, and I’ve never tried to replace Tim Russert," he said. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for Tim and his legacy. And I’m doing my own thing, just like Tim did.

"Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to focus on this job if I was going to let that stuff get to me. I knew it would be there going in, and I’m just focused on being David Gregory and taking the show to the next level."

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